PM's desire for exit date means Gaddafi may stay


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The British Government is preparing to allow Colonel Gaddafi to "go into retirement in Libya" as part of a reassessment of its hardline policy towards the dictator.

David Cameron has told Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence officials working on Libyan strategy that, following months of stalemate, the time has come to find a way out of the conflict and to back a French proposal to allow Gaddafi to stay in the country as part of a negotiated settlement with rebel forces.

Mr Cameron's change in stance is borne of concerns that without a decisive breakthrough by the rebels in Benghazi, which is considered unlikely, allied action in Libya could drag on for months.

The problem is compounded by the timing of Ramadan, during which Muslims cannot eat or drink in daylight hours. This year Ramadan begins around the start of August, lasts for 30 days and is expected to bring a lull in the fighting on both sides.

Mr Cameron wants Britain's role in Libya to be over by the time of the Conservative party conference in October and the new parliamentary session.

A government official said: "At the moment we are embroiled in two foreign conflicts: Afghanistan, which we can do nothing about, and Libya, which we can. If that means altering our insistence that Colonel Gaddafi has to leave Libya, then so be it."

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, speaking yesterday after talks with his French counterpart, Alain Juppé, repeated Britain's demand for "Colonel Gaddafi to go". But tellingly he did not suggest that he had to leave the country. "We are absolutely clear that at the end of the day, Gaddafi is going to have to abandon power, all military and civil responsibility, and then it will be for the Libyan people themselves to decide what (his) fate will be either inside Libya or outside Libya," he said.

Privately, Foreign Office officials confirm that the British position has changed – but still insist Gaddafi must have no role in the future governance of the country. "If he is out of power completely and we can be convinced that he is not going to be able to return in any form then it is something we would consider," a source said.